April 2007

Handel - Concerti grossi, Op. 3; Sonata a 5, HWV 288
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr conductor
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907415
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Richard Egarr, who has made such a powerful impression as keyboardist in numerous earlier releases from Harmonia Mundi, has succeeded Christopher Hogwood as conductor of the London-based Academy of Ancient Music, and his initial recording in that role is, to come directly to the point, an out-and-out knockout. There have been other attractive offerings of the six concertos for woodwinds and strings that make up Handel’s Op.3 (one of them with the AAM under Hogwood), but none represent quite so strong a combination of scholarship, vitality, and truly great sound. For those who know the music, this is unimaginably refreshing; for those who don’t, there could not be a happier introduction to it.

Egarr himself provides a lively disquisition on the various editions of these six concertos and the informed decisions he made in respect to instrumentation and improvisation. There is no reference to the Concerto No.4-bis, a seldom-heard but by no means negligible alternative piece which both Raymond Leppard and August Wenzinger appended to their earlier recordings of the standard Op.3 set. In its place, Egarr follows the six concertos with the similarly unfamiliar, and similarly worthwhile, little violin concerto which Handel chose to label "Sonata a 5." Pavlo Beznosiuk, the AAM’s concertmaster, is the stunning soloist.

While this release definitely whets the appetite for the rest of Egarr’s announced Handel series, it is no less welcome for what it delivers now in its own right. No superlative would be excessive in praise of its remarkable bounty of pleasures for music lovers and audiophiles alike.